Tokyobling's Blog

Sunday in Akihabara

Posted in Opinion, People, Places by tokyobling on November 18, 2013

One of the most famous aspects of Akihabara for a long time was the Sunday only “Hokousha tengoku”, a temporary pedestrian zone established in the heart of Akihabara to stop traffic and allow people to flow onto the streets. It was cancelled for several years but is now up and running again, this time with a quite visible increase in security as police block of the streets leading into the pedestrian zone with large metal vehicle guards. The practice of officially sanctioned “Hokousha tengoku” (which translates a “pedestrian heaven”) started in Tokyo in August 1970, in Ginza, which remains the most famous hokusha tengoku in Japan. Currently there are three of them in official practice, Ginza, Shinjuku and Akihabara (detailed map on the metropolitan police website here), all on Sundays and some public holidays. During the time and area specified, all sorts of public performance, money raising, handing out promotional tissue paper or flyers, demos etc., is prohibited, making it a very unreal experience, peaceful and quiet. It makes me happy and sad at the same time: happy because of unusual break from the everyday hell of urban traffic and sad because it should make it painfully obvious to everyone how absurd our present day reliance on cars and traffic in our city centers really is. The fact that we devote so much public space (85%? 90%?) of prime real estate in our most important cities to traffic is just absurd. Surely there must be better ways of doing things.

There is a very high quality live webcam of one famous Akihabara street crossing, log in on Sundays to see the Hokousha tengoku for yourself! Apart from Ginza, Shinjuku and Akihabara there are other “unofficial” hokousha tengoku spots appearing around Tokyo, for example Kagurazaka street between Iidabashi and Kagurazaka stations in Shinjuku Ward. If you have a favorite Sunday hokousha tengoku spot, let us know in the comments!

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19 Responses

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  1. Hangaku Gozen said, on November 18, 2013 at 5:36 am

    This past year the city of San Francisco began experimenting with closing certain neighborhood streets on Sunday. A month ago, I was delighted to walk down the middle of Clement Avenue in the Richmond District, where a Farmers’ Market had been set up. Besides stands of fresh vegetables, fruits, and jars of preserves, we saw llamas, street performers, clowns, and of course, hundreds of people, families with children, young singles, and people out walking their dogs. As if to celebrate the opportunity to walk down a normally busy street, many of the dogs were dressed up in costume! I wish we had more days like this—you’re right, it’s a shame that so much space is handed over to the operation of motor vehicles. San Francisco, like Tokyo, is a crowded city where real estate is expensive and space is at a premium. The city does have an extensive public transportation system like Tokyo, but Americans are very fond of their cars, and even in a place where parking is hard to find, everyone seems to insist on owning one.

    We also would be a lot more healthy if we able-bodied folks had to walk more often. I think one reason why so many Americans are overweight is because we rely too much on a car to get to places, even to destinations that are close to home.

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    • tokyobling said, on November 18, 2013 at 6:39 am

      Sounds like a great experiment! The sooner we can get rid of cars in our lives the better. I walk over 14km every day and it does wonder for your health, both physically and mentally!

      Like

    • C said, on November 18, 2013 at 8:39 am

      Many Bay Area cities do that each week for farmer’s markets. As for SF, I believe it’s second behind NYC in population density and theoretically MUNI is pretty comprehensive. I think the big problem in recent years is the huge homeless population that has spiraled out of control, especially with drug and alcohol abuse. Without support for mental health services for these folks, I don’t feel comfortable on transit (needles, anyone?). Walking is great in some neighborhoods at certain times, but not others. And I don’t like to watch my back everywhere I go. Tokyo is like the polar opposite, which is so nice!

      Plus, you have those pesky hills. Out in the Richmond it’s flat, but try that in other parts right? That said, I used an e-bike in Germany a few weeks ago and can see that being a great equalizer. Hills are not as big a deal and people of all ages can be more active.

      Anyway, you can thank the oil lobby in the 1950s for (sub)urban design that led us to this current mess. How can you turn every city into a Davis or Palo Alto? Once concrete and houses are in, it’s not easy to change habits.

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      • tokyobling said, on November 19, 2013 at 1:21 am

        Tokyo has some of the hills, maybe nothing compared to SF… Still, Tokyo is so wonderfully safe that I can’t imagine living anywhere else. Not having to worry all the time is so fantastically liberating!

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        • C said, on November 29, 2013 at 5:27 am

          It’s interesting, a person on the flight over who lives in Tokyo said she didn’t feel safe at all — earthquakes. Safety really is a state of mind, eh? San Francisco is my only iffy spot 🙂

          I have a bike here and it’s so much fun, but then I read that Tokyo is *removing* bike lanes at this very moment? Nooooo, that’s so backwards! 😦

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          • tokyobling said, on November 29, 2013 at 6:07 am

            Traffic in Tokyo is such a complicated matter. I have written a post on bike lanes but I have not published it yet (is one of my emergency posts to save for when I am sick or have an accident or otherwise unable to write a new post like I usually do every day). Tokyo is one of those cities that have gone through the biking phase and is now into walking, one of the reasons being that there really is no space as long as they want to make sure most streets are two way. The sidewalks are already over crowded. And then we have the not so small matter of bicycle rider’s manners…

            I guess everyone has a base level of insecurity and me being a westerner means that earthquakes are not even on my list of things that keep me up at night. (^-^;)

            Like

          • C said, on November 29, 2013 at 8:12 am

            Well, that earthquake at 1 AM kept me up half the night! But I think most of that was jet lag.

            Some infographic mentioned that biking is actually on the rise in Tokyo, and it’s now one of the top 10 cities in the world for it. I watched the videos of cyclists with bad manners and now I’m getting nervous! And then I nearly got run over on the sidewalk by someone biking the wrong way with cell phone in hand (let’s see, how many infractions there?). Lack of bicycle education is a problem in California too. Too bad there can’t be a simple permit process that requires one to learn at least a few of the rules of the road.

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          • tokyobling said, on November 29, 2013 at 9:19 am

            Yes it woke me up, but only because my windows rattled so loudly! (^-^)

            Inner city population in Tokyo has grown rapidly in these last 10 years as more and more couples move back into the city from the suburbs, this means that the population of people who live in Tokyo 24-7 as opposed to the daytime population is much larger and puts extra strain on sidewalks. Before not many people were biking because very very few people lived so close that it was a viable option. Not so these days!

            Like

  2. amadl said, on November 18, 2013 at 7:17 am

    Everything seem more peacefuL without motor vehicLes, right? Since a coupLe of years ago Jakarta has been impLementing a program caLLed “Car Free Day” every Sunday on the main roads, but the pedestrians stiLL have to make way for cycLing competitions and running competitions.. at Least it’s stiLL safe enough to do some sports

    Like

    • tokyobling said, on November 18, 2013 at 7:52 am

      Sounds like the city of Jakarta is on the right path! Now all you need to do is to get permission to practice Yosakoi on one of the main roads!

      Like

  3. yoshizen said, on November 18, 2013 at 7:58 am

    Last time I saw them on mid 80s, the town looked somewhat similar.
    The most surprising view was that the Radio Centre (photo 9) where tiny
    shop (booth ?) selling elec’ components, looks the same as 60s, 70s !

    Like

    • tokyobling said, on November 19, 2013 at 1:15 am

      Some areas have not changed at all, but other parts are radically different from just a few years ago. I miss the old Akihabara a little.

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  4. osakagaijin said, on November 18, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Hey, again very impressing (and huge) pictures. How did you do them? Did you use just a full-frame sensor or a special lens or put you some pictures together to a panorama? The colors are really incredible. Did you put some pictures together like one for sky and one for the rest or how did you made it actually?
    Thank you for this delicious views! Maybe I should go to Tokyo also 😉

    Like

    • tokyobling said, on November 19, 2013 at 1:18 am

      Thank you Osakagaijin! I take so many photos that I never have time to edit them very much. Most of them are straight from camera, JPG files. If there is some photo that I really want to use I might edit it more or use a RAW file if I have one (but 90% of the photos I take are only JPG). For this I was just lucky with the light, the clouds and the time of the day – no stitching or panoramas. I use a D3s full-frame sensor, and for this series two lenses, a 17-35mm wide zoom and a 135mm prime tele. All Nikon! (^-^)

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  5. Cathryn said, on November 18, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    I also live in the Bay Area but in the suburbs where I’m reliant on my car. I’m very active (we do a lot of running and hiking) but during three weeks in Tokyo last year, where I walked everywhere pushing my son in his stroller, I lost 5lbs pretty much effortlessly. Two weeks back at home and the weight was back on. I would love to walk more here but it’s not pedestrian friendly or even cycle friendly. Roads are so busy. Akihabara looks amazing in these photos. I’m curious about the heavy police/security presence – I can’t imagine strolling Japanese people need much control? Everyone is so polite.

    Like

    • tokyobling said, on November 19, 2013 at 1:23 am

      Nothing beats walking when it comes to keeping a healthy figure and healthy lifestyle. I have had days where I walk 8-9 hours straight and it feels great. It would be technically and biologically impossible to gain weight if you walk 8 hours per day… (^-^)

      People are polite indeed but the police don’t want these hokousha tengoku areas to become magnets for street performers or hawkers, as there is always one or two that takes things one step too far. (^-^;) Before they didn’t use the anti-riot vehicle stoppers to block the side streets but were introduced after a very sad incident in 2008 where a mass murder took place right here. 7 people killed and the perpetrator is now on death row. Even Japan, despite being remarkably safe compared to any other country on Earth, still has a few unstable people.

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  6. Selvinas said, on November 28, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    Seeing these empty streets reminds me of apocalypse movies where zombies are roaming the streets looking for survivors ;p

    We also have carless Sundays and other weekday but I guess in Holland we don’t really need it that much since we have less cars/population and we bike regularly. Also I think our cities are designed very differently than NYC or Tokyo so we have more walking and cycling space.

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    • tokyobling said, on November 29, 2013 at 12:56 am

      Oh yes, Holland is famous for its bike friendly streets. I wish we would learn more from Holland, and I wish Holland would show us the way forward and abolish urban cars altogether! If anyone can do it – it is Holland! (^-^)

      Like

      • Selvinas said, on November 29, 2013 at 10:35 am

        Although the next couple of years we will need to change our bicycle lanes because the big cities are becoming more populated and it’s already becoming a problem on some crossways. But the city designers are on it already so there have been some pilots happening with different street constructions, laws and red/green lights.

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